Lydia Dick / Director, UAB Anvil
Can do. Will do. Done.
Opera singer, pianist, budding songwriter, painter and, increasingly, a force in Birmingham’s emerging-entrepreneur scene; it could be reasonably stated that Lydia Dick is constitutionally incapable of boredom.
“I grew-up on a Christmas tree farm in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. My father’s a scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the tree farm was what he did in his spare time” — although it doesn’t sound like there was much of that: “Growing up, I was surrounded by researchers. There was always a scientist sleeping on the couch, or an exchange student somewhere in the house.”
Not surprisingly, one of the questions she hears regularly is, How did you ever find yourself in Birmingham, Alabama? Through Venture For America, which ultimately led to her being hired as director of the Anvil — UAB’s Commercialization Accelerator. “One of my central responsibilities is running our Student Startup Bootcamp" — a 10-week program for UAB undergraduates and graduates who want to launch businesses.
“The Boot camp exists to help spark student ideas, and shape them into entrepreneurs. My primary role is to plug students into the entrepreneurial community in Birmingham — connecting them to people and businesses all over town. It's my intention to keep as many of these people as possible in Birmingham — whether they decide to start a business, or they conclude they want to work for another startup.”
And while she doesn’t serve the students as a “business consultant” per se, Lydia does have her own entrepreneurial experience. “After college, I worked for a healthcare startup in Nashville, where I wore a lot of different hats. And when I was a sophomore at Rice, I started running the student bike shop. I grew it, scaled it and led the move to a new location. During that time, we went from a 3-hour-a-week operation in a space the size of a closet to a staff of 17.”
Making a real difference
“The work I do now is incredibly rewarding. It has a tangible impact on my immediate surroundings. When I drive around Birmingham and see what's happening, with new businesses and restaurants opening all the time, it brings real meaning to my work.”
It didn’t take Lydia long to get herself connected in Birmingham. “My first 60 days in town, I had coffee with as many people as I possibly could. Now I can't go to a coffee shop without seeing someone I know. I take tremendous value in being connected to the people where I live.”
Among those connections are the friendships she’s made as a singer with Opera Birmingham, a section leader for the Canterbury Methodist choir, and a regular volunteer at WBHM.
“When I decided to move here, some of my friends in Massachusetts thought I was crazy. Not anymore. What I appreciate most about Birmingham is the quality of life I have compared to so many of them. When I consider how much time they spend traveling to and from work, or working until 9:00 at night, practically all they're doing after hours is sleeping.
“I can go to the gym after work, be home by 6:30 — and still have time to meet friends for drinks and get to bed at a decent hour. I have a nice place to hike right outside my back yard, and there are so many other great places I can go that are within a short driving distance. All of those things are possible because Birmingham gives me the space to live.” Rarely is that living space in such capable hands.
Months after our interview (and video shoot), Lydia was approached about a position at Pack Health — a Birmingham-based digital health-coaching company.
“I was very happy at the Anvil, and was NOT looking to make a move, but the mission and the culture at Pack Health is so compelling, it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.” She remains strongly supportive of the Anvil and its mission — where she routinely volunteers in her free time.